The Hard Reality
Reading the Bible feels overwhelming, even deciding which one to purchase is difficult. Most people who enter a store looking for a Bible leave without finding one. They get lost in the stacks and rows of versions and styles that are displayed. But once preteens do find one or are given one, we’re challenged to teach them basic Bible skills because they don’t know and aren’t being taught how to use a Bible. Like listening to music versus playing an instrument—knowing basic Bible study skills is important. The hard reality is that Bible knowledge and Bible literacy are declining in our families, even though Bible knowledge ranks as a top need in the 2017 Campbell Rinker research study. But the fact is that only 37% of Americans report reading the Bible once a week or more (Barna Group). We’re to the point in America that many educators are even beginning to see our culture not as illiterate, but as aliterate—people are able to read, but they are uninterested in doing so. It’s an indifference and boredom toward reading for academic and enrichment purposes. Most people spend time scrolling online or text messaging, but these mediums are more geared toward images than words.
Why Is This Happening?
It’s easy to focus on these challenges and then just try to overcome them. But an important place to start is to ask, WHY is this happening?
- Cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is where the definition of truth becomes subjective. The truth is the truth for me, but not necessarily the truth for you.
- Ever-changing world. We live in a day where nothing stays the same for too long. Change becomes expected.
- Broken families and relationships are a way of life. In this context, why would preteens even think there is anything that stays the same in their life?
WHY the Bible is Important
Did you know that research shows that Bible reading is the number one indicator for spiritual growth? God’s Word is one of the ways He speaks to us and through us. It’s His story, captured down through time, is meant to be passed on from generation to generation.
- God’s Word is the source of Truth. The Authority of Scripture is very real; the Bible is not someone’s opinion. Not only does God want to share it with us, He invites us into His story. We each have a crucial part to play.
- The Bible shows us who God is. The Bible depicts the person of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (See Matthew 28:19)
- Jesus used Scripture to defeat Satan. (See Matthew 4: 1-11)
- Jesus taught us how to pray in the Bible. The Lord’s Prayer was used as his example of how we should pray to God. (See Matthew 6:9-13)
- When we put God’s Word in our hearts, we are equipped to face any circumstance. With God’s Word we can do this without pastors, leaders, parents, church, or even a Bible in our hands or on our phone. It is embedded there.
- God’s Word is meant to be shared. As part of The Great Commission, God called us to share His Word throughout the nations. (See Matthew 28:16-20)
- It’s not enough to just summarize for kids. Kids need, now more than ever, to explore the Bible for themselves, for increased understanding, ownership, and searching out answers to questions they have. They need to be equipped in order to seek and find the answers from Scripture.
10 Things to know About Today’s Generation (born between 1995 and 2012)
As we think about how to engage preteens with Scripture, it’s important to make sure we know this unique generation of kids. Did you know that preteens do not remember a world pre-smartphone, and they don’t remember 9/11?
- They are driven. They most closely resemble the Greatest Generation (Boomers’ parents) because they experience economic hardship similar to the depression and global turmoil similar to the World Wars.
- Done with authority. For Gen Z, 60% want to change the world and make it a better place, versus 39% of Millennials (Sparks & Honey).
- They are more realistic than idealistic. They like to see the facts.
- Of preteens today, 72% want to start a business, according to Sparks & Honey. Prefer a cool product over a cool experience.
- Gen Z prefers 5 screens, not just 2 (Sparks & Honey). WOW!
- Hyper-aware. Multiple research suggests that Gen Z has 4D thinking; they are very aware of their surroundings (Nielson Children’s Book Summit).
- Technology reliant (not just savvy). Technology is in the same category as air and water. They will use a phone and TV far more than a laptop, are connected more than 9 hours per day (Common Sense Media), and will send 3,000 texts per month, according to PEW Research.
- Gen Zers will utilize less social media than Xers or Millennials. 70% of them watch more than two hours a day of YouTube videos (Trifecta Research). They have moved away from Facebook and Twitter and use more private platforms such as Whisper and Snapchat, according to Sparks & Honey.
- Culture co-creators. They don’t consume entertainment; they create and shape it.
- These kids, for the most part, value saving over spending.
So, if those are the trends, what do we do?
7 Key Principles to Preteen Bible Engagement
Engage them in the Story. As a child I (Courtney) was able to recite Luke 2, but never really understood what it meant. When I finally learned the ENTIRE story, I realized I had memorized the very moment that God came in the flesh. The actual, real Savior of the world had entered the scene, and my mind was BLOWN! It’s imperative that we help kids see that the story is real, and it’s important for them to understand it in context, or “surround” sound. According to C. S. Lewis, “Stories steal past the watchful dragons of our hearts.” Our brains are literally organized by stories. The Inside Out move is actually pretty accurate! Just like a great story, Scripture is written to evoke imagination. Jesus spoke to the imagination with each story he told: we can see it in the Good Shepherd, the Vine and Branches. These stories create “me too” moments that we are able to relate to and understand. These “me too” moments then lead to worship response moments that allow us to create space for responding to God’s Word.
Empower them to understand it. Preteens are gaining some independence and beginning to look outside of their parents for identity. Show them how to look to God’s Word for help defining who they are. We can start by giving them tools and showing them how to use them. Often times we break things down too much, or we make the Bible into devotional thoughts in an effort to help people understand. But what if instead we taught kids how to study the Bible? What if we asked them key questions while diving into Scripture? What do you see? What does God say? What will you do? Knowing how to study the Bible will help them memorize and pull up verses as they need them. It is even great to show them how to use technology to find answers and opinions and instill in them how to discern truth.
Make it real for them. The Bible is full of real people, real places, and real faith. If you can bring these people to life, your audience will be able to enter into the story. If we make the people in the Bible seem like they are superheroes, with no struggles, they become unreal and un-relatable. It causes their faith to not be real and then their victories are not real. This amazing big story of God is intended to form our identity and give us direction as God’s people. Kids need to know that the big God story is THEIR Story. THEY are a part of this grand redemptive plan and THAT’S why it makes a difference in their lives—the history is relevant to their story! Take a minute to picture children at a puppet show where a child is screaming the dragon is slain! THIS is how children should feel as we tell the big God story! Be sure to give the kids an EXPERIENCE of Jesus. Instead of reciting something written long ago in a land far away, give them a memory they can pull up for themselves.
Recognize what’s next. Preteens become teenagers! Teenagers are looking to discover their uniqueness and find their value. If we can help preteens own their faith, they will move into this next important phase with healthy confidence, habits, and patterns established. It’s important to do this so they will develop friendships and relationships that are worth carrying with them into the next season of life. Most importantly, truth matters! Make it about their identity, not solely focused on morality!
Release them to lead and engage with the world. You’ve done the work and trained up these preteens on how to discover God’s truth in their lives. Now let them go do it! They are ready and equipped to search and find truth in the Bible. You’ve done well, so take a deep breath—in and out. They want to change the world—LET THEM!
Inspire, Equip, and Support their parents. Parents are a little scared, and often don’t know how to encourage their kids. Be sure to lift them up, just like you’ve done for their kids.
Equip Leaders who love the Bible. Ask your leaders how they personally engage in Scripture and give them a plan to help them grow in their understanding as well. It’s important that the leaders of these kids are equipped to find answers and equipped to teach kids to do the same. You can do this! Like this article and want to start training your preteens? Check out some of our Bibles and resources designed just for preteens!